SANFORD, Fla. – After three weeks, Orlando City is still searching for its first victory of the 2019 regular season.
The Lions (0-1-2, 2 points) are winless through three games and face the consistently tough New York Red Bulls (1-0-1, 4 points) on Saturday at Red Bull Arena. It’ll be a challenging game. It’s no secret the Red Bulls like to high press, and Orlando City has been punished early for giving up the ball in its own half.
It’s a system and style of play Lions coach James O’Connor said is run by every Red Bulls team.
“When you’re playing the New York Red Bulls, you know what to expect,” O’Connor said.
Orlando City gave up two goals in a 90-second span early in a 3-1 loss to the Montreal Impact last week and put two shots on target. It’s a match the Lions are eager to put firmly in the rear-view mirror.
“If you look at the two key areas, when you create chances like that, you have to finish them,” O’Connor said. “And then, equally, you cannot gift chances like that. We’ve had two lapses in concentration and [gave] them two presents. In any game of soccer, you need to defend the box and you need to be clinical in the other end.
“So, I think that’s the primary focus, is to make sure we eliminate what’s happening in our defensive third and just be more clinical when those opportunities arise in taking them.”
The Red Bulls will be without a quintet of starters for Saturday’s game. Midfielder Florian Valot posted on Instagram Tuesday he tore his right ACL, and the club confirmed he’d undergo surgery. Aaron Long, Kemar Lawrence, Michael Amir Murillo and Kaku are all gone for national team duty.
Orlando City will be without two of last week’s starters, midfielders Sebas Méndez (with his national team) and Will Johnson (concussion). Forward Tesho Akindele – a starter in the team’s first two matches — also remains out due to a hamstring injury.
“It presents an opportunity for some of the other players,” O’Connor said. “I think, for us, we’re excited. I think it’s a great challenge to go to New York. We feel as if the players are in a good spot. We’re looking forward to the game.”
Forward Chris Mueller said the team needs to show character and respond to early adversity.
“These are the times when you can respond,” Mueller said. “Like I said, you can show a lot of character about who you are. The teams that can bounce back from starts like this are the ones that can end up going deep in the playoffs and just deep into the season with a strong run. I think that right now, we need to look forward and, like I said, build on the positives.”
Orlando City’s players have echoed their coach. O’Connor said early in the week he doesn’t want the team’s poor performance in its loss to the Montreal Impact to undo what he called the “good work that’s been done” early in the year.
“I think that’s 100 percent the right message,” said Lions midfielder Sacha Kljestan, who previously played for the Red Bulls. “I think that we all came in on Monday still disappointed, and that’s normal because we thought we had a bad performance. I think by Tuesday, we had to get over it and get ready for a big game this weekend.
“We know the Red Bulls are very good, and especially in their place, they’re very, very good. It’s going to be a tough game for us, but we have to go in there and give our best and, hopefully, steal some points away from them, because I think they’ve got some guys missing with injury and international call-ups. The time is right to go there and kind of right this thing. Hopefully, a good performance against the Red Bulls really steers us in the right direction.”
Last season, Orlando City began a six-match winning streak with a victory over the New York Red Bulls in the first of two meetings between the two sides. The Lions went into that match winless through three matches and got two goals from star striker Dom Dwyer in a 4-3 win.
Orlando City ended its 2018 season with a 1-0 loss to the Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena.
Orlando City at New York Red Bulls, 7:30
Where: Red Bull Arena
Watch: WRBW-My65, Youtube TV (in Orlando only), ESPN+
The Buzz: Orlando City (0-1-2, 2 points) is on the road for a match against the New York Red Bulls (1-0-1, 4 points). … The Lions will be without midfielders Will Johnson (concussion) and Sebas Méndez (international duty), as well as forward Tesho Akindele (hamstring). … Centerback Lamine Sané (calf) is questionable for the match, though he’s been training with the team and the club confirmed on Twitter he traveled with the team. … The Red Bulls are missing four players called up to national teams: Aaron Long, Kemar Lawrence, Michael Amir Murillo and Kaku. Midfielder Florian Valot is out with a torn MCL. … New York is coming off a 4-1 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes, while Orlando City is coming off a 3-1 loss to the Montreal Impact.